Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1007
Devil in a Blue Dress tells the story of Ezekial “Easy” Rawlins’s efforts to find Daphne Monet and also tells the concurrent story of Rawlins’s self-discovery. Set in post-World War II Los Angeles and centering upon the emergent African American community, Devil in a Blue Dress is both conventional detective story and commentary on American social relations. The book’s plot is difficult to describe, as the novelist attempts to portray almost all the story’s events as duplicitous or as having hidden meaning. At the novel’s conclusion, many characters’ motivations, fates, and identities are purposely left unclear.
Having lost his job in an aircraft factory, Rawlins is desperate to take any kind of work that will help him to protect his home. Joppy, Easy’s bartender friend, encourages Dewitt Albright to offer Rawlins work in the search for Monet. Rawlins, like most literary detectives, is naturally suspicious but still takes the work. As the story unfolds, Rawlins discovers that the case is much more than a simple search for a missing person. His entry into the underworld of Los Angeles parallels his struggle to come to terms with his war experiences and the guilt associated with Mouse’s killing of his stepfather.
Although Dewitt Albright has presented the job to Rawlins as strictly a case of obtaining information that might lead to the discovery of Daphne Monet, the very process of asking questions leads to Rawlins’s implication in Coretta James’s death. James was often a companion to Daphne Monet, and her speaking with Rawlins cost her her life. Having provided Albright with the information he needed, Rawlins must still deal with the police. Every time he has the opportunity to clear himself, he is drawn in deeper. The sense that he is in over his head leads to his sending a message to Mouse in Houston asking for his help. Ironically, despite Rawlins’s reservations about his friend’s violent past, it is Mouse’s ability to provide physical defense, to act violently, that Rawlins needs desperately.
Rawlins’s complete involvement is ensured when Daphne Monet contacts him. She tells him that she is desperate for his help in obtaining funds to escape the men who are searching for her. Although he initially contacts her to put an end to the “complications,” it is through this contact that he is connected to the murder of Richard McGee. Monet abandons Easy and causes him to be the target of both Dewitt Albright and the police. His only chance at survival is to search for her companion, Frank Green, a runner of illegal liquor. McGee had held money for Daphne and was killed by someone in search of those funds. Frank Green, whom readers know only as Daphne’s protector, must be found by Easy if he is ever to have any peace.
Rawlins is also implicated by his attraction to Daphne and by their eventual sexual encounter. Daphne ensures that there will be no easy way out for Rawlins. He must deal with the pattern of criminality that surrounds her and with his own belief that she is white. Additionally, Rawlins’s meetings with Matthew Teran and Todd Carter suggest to Rawlins the depth of the moral degradation around him. Teran, a potential candidate for mayor, worries more about Daphne Monet revealing information about his underworld life than he does about the condition of a small child he sexually abuses. In a similar fashion, Todd Carter, a prominent local businessman and Daphne’s ex-boyfriend, is less concerned with violence or even the loss of $30,000 taken by Daphne than he is with recapturing her, whom he views as his property.
By now Rawlins has also learned that he enjoys the business of asking questions, the role of detective. The search for Frank Green is dangerous and involves much subterfuge, but it is also emotionally satisfying....
(The entire section contains 1007 words.)
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